Karl Barth and the Question of Obedience

I have just finished reading The Call to Discipleship by Karl Barth (you can see my review of the book here).  It is a succint read into the thoughts of Barth on the question of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.


Barth begins by saying about the man who said to Jesus he would follow him wherever he went (Luke 9:57-58).  Barth says:

He is obviously one who has presumed to do this on his own initiative.  And his [Jesus’] answer is the terrible saying about the foxes that have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, ‘but the son of man–whom he is going to follow–hath not where to lay his head.’  He does not realize that it is that he thinks he can choose.  He does not know how terrible is the venture in which he commits himself in the execution of this choice.

No one of themselves can or will imagine that this is their way, or take this way.  What Jesus wills with his ‘Follow me” can be chosen only in obedience to his call: ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water’ (Matt 14:28).  Without being bidden by Christ, he could not do this.  It has also been noted that there can be no conditions.  The man mentioned [above]… lacked true discipleship, not merely because he offered it to Jesus as a matter of his own choice, but because he also made a condition: “Let me first say farewall to those at my home.”

I have never been a fan of Calvinism (and that is not necessarily what Barth is arguing for here), but I think that the idea of choice goes to show how well off we are.  A famous phrase in America is that we want to change the world.  As with almost all phrases which have been repeated over and over again in an American mantra, they mean almost nothing.  How do these people want to change the world?  Perhaps some would say they want to change the world ‘for the better,” but to what better end do they wish to change the world and why do they think they have the answer as to why their world is best?  Choice and change are all a result of comsumeristic tendencies that have killed many disciples in America.  At this time of Christmas, we need to consider how we might obey without putting conditions on our obedience.


2 thoughts on “Karl Barth and the Question of Obedience

  1. The more of Barth I read the more I love him. Thanks for sharing this. I have not read the piece you quote above but will have to check it out.


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